Monday, 21 December 2015

Looking For The Christmas Spirit


Looking For The Christmas Spirit

 

This is by far the hardest Christmas for me.  It is my first Christmas without Dad. 

 

Every year, the extended family would gather at my home on Christmas Eve where I would fill it with a beautiful tree, buntings, lights, candles, and all manner of Christmas decoration that was extensive enough to start my own trim shop.  Conversations peppered with laughter would surround the dinner table laid out with a huge spread of roast Turkey, a baked ham, rosemary-roasted baby potatoes, brussel sprouts, parsnips and home-made cranberry sauce lovingly cooked by David and our housekeeper, Evelyn.

 

This year, I could not even bring myself to go tree-hunting with the family, like I usually would.  The decorations at the trim shops out there were more confusing than mesmerizing.  I could not step into the grocery store to shop for ingredients for our Christmas Eve dinner. I forgot to make time to take my Mum Christmas shopping like I did every year.   I just could not feel the Christmas spirit in me.

 

Managing The Grief

 

 

I know this was part of the grieving process but I did not think Christmas would ever be the same again.  Christmas was about family.  How was this season about family when an important member of my family had been cruelly plucked from my life?

 

I recognized that the grieving process did take time and it would never get easier.  At this time of the year, it actually got even worse.  However, I tried to be gentle to myself and gave myself permission to take some time out of the preparations for the Christmas Eve dinner.  I allowed David, Evelyn and Mom to take over the kitchen this Christmas Eve.  I still would not allow a tree in the house.  If Dad could not be here to gawk happily at my Christmas tree like he had done so every year, then, why have a tree right?

 


The Christmas Spirit Came Looking For Me

 

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I knew my emotions would be diving through a tsunami, threatening to drown me under my efforts to strike a balance between a turbulent wave of grief and my fa├žade of focused determination as I threw myself into long work days.  However Christmas kept catching up with me.

 

Our company sponsored the Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay.  That meant I could not avoid the endless rounds of Christmas parties organized at the Spiegeltent, the countless selfies and wefies taken with the luminaire lights and festive displays plastered across social media and worst of all, I had to think of fun contests and campaigns to promote the Christmas Wonderland. As much as I thought that I had to do it all with emotional detachment, the truth was that, I rather enjoyed working with my team on the project. It made my heart swell with pride when I watched them working very hard on the sponsorship activation plans, yet genuinely enjoying every minute of it.  I did not realize this till I looked back at the photos we took of ourselves riding the carousel, and clowning about around the gardens as a team.  I really did enjoy these moments with them. 

 

Christmas was not very far from me after all.

 



I looked forward to weekends, when David was busy with his sports photography assignments.  This provided me with some “Me-time” to wallow in grief at some coffee shop somewhere where I could salve the pain with a huge slice of cake.  However, I would come across a pop-up store or a festive push-cart nearby selling a shiny bracelet, or a pretty trinket that immediately called out one of my staff’s name.  So that was how I did my Christmas shopping for the girls at work. 

 

Christmas was not very far from me after all.

 


In the midst of this depression, Joel embarked on his new life in the army.  The start of his 2-year stint at national service meant that I could only see him on certain weekends.  I thought that was a good opportunity to avoid the pesky questions from Joel about my state of mind and I really did not want to pull him down with my depression particularly when he was embracing army life with such enthusiasm.  However, as fate would have it, he came home most weekends, and accompanied me to Church every Sunday morning, where we would have breakfast at the Church canteen after mass.  The boy brought me sunshine  as he joked about his experiences with his platoon mates, the friends he made, the drills, the exercises and the food at the army camp. He admitted to me that through it all, the hardest thing for him was to balance his time between his army mates, his girlfriend and I.  I was grateful for time spent with him, and even more grateful for the light he had brought back to me when I was feeling down.

 

Christmas was not very far from me after all.

 


Yesterday, I had the opportunity to take Mum shopping finally as Joel had to get back to camp and David had to trawl across the grocery stores for ingredients he had not yet bought to prepare for the Christmas Eve dinner. Mum and I traipsed down the entire Orchard Road zipping in and out of malls, looking for colorful clothes that were worthy of the season, trying them on at fitting rooms fit for 2 people so that we could both laugh out loud  at each other when we happened to try on a dress or blouse that looked like we had just put on a tea cozy or a granny’s table cloth.  We ended our day by having dinner with my brother Jerome and my sister-in-law Ely.  As I glanced around the dinner table at the family, I truly felt blessed.  I was surrounded by the people who mattered most. I spent the day with the people I loved and who meant the world to me.

 

Christmas was not very far from me after all.

 


Late last night, I went to the refrigerator to get myself a drink when I saw that it was stocked from top to bottom with brussel sprouts, parnips, cranberries, carrots, fresh herbs,  jars of different kinds of sauces, marinades and tapenades, Prosecco, and wine.  The freezer had a large bird waiting to be the main attraction at Christmas Eve.  The kitchen counter top was like a merchandising display corner of a Crate and Barrel store. Carving knives, roasting trays, roasting racks, pie dishes were lined up neatly in a row.  I realized I had nothing to worry about because I spent weeks fretting about whether or not I should call in the caterers.  I had already pre-arranged plans at the gym with my personal trainer followed by a cup of tea with some friends down town on Christmas Eve.  I was planning to just show up at my own Christmas Eve dinner party.  I felt very proud that David and Evelyn had stepped up to take care of the Christmas Eve dinner.  I knew I could count on them to whip up the perfect Christmas Eve dinner.  Actually, there was nothing new to this.  Every year, they did it anyway.  I was always pretty useless in the kitchen. I was better at opening wine bottles and popping the champagne cork.  Each year, as they both prepared for the annual Christmas Eve dinner, I was like the “a spare foreskin at a Bar Mitzvah” as David would describe me.  So, I was really glad that I had a good reason to stay out of the kitchen and left them to be in charge of all that Christmas fare.

 

Christmas was not very far from me after all.




 

 


Celebrating Christmas With Dad Anyway

 

This morning, it suddenly dawned on me that the only reason Dad loved coming to my Christmas Eve dinner party every year, gawked at my pretty Christmas tree, and drank way too much red wine, was because he enjoyed being surrounded by family.  Family meant the world to Dad, the way it did to me.  This Christmas spirit, was not about presents, tree, turkey and champagne.  It was about family. 

 

I knew that if the family is with me, whether at my Christmas Eve dinner party, or at a scrumptious Laksa lunch cooked by Mum on the occasional Sunday or at the malls along Orchard Road, or at the Christmas Wonderland at Gardens By the Bay, my Dad would be with us.

 


The Christmas Spirit is the Spirit of the Family, an unbreakable bond, and a circle of love.



 

About The Writer

The writer of this blog post is a Marketing and PR professional for over 20 years.  Due to her love for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), she is also a freelance sports writer on the side, contributing MMA-related articles to several sports media.  She works in partnership with her husband, David Ash, who is an avid sports photographer from 
www.singaporemaven.com.  She is passionate about Boxing and nurtures a dream to fight competitively one day when her coach stops making fun of her.  She is also a psychic intuitive by birth and runs a consultancy that does tarot and numerology readings under her brand, Sun Goddess Tarot.  This blog is affectionately called "The Crazy AngMo" as she is married to one, although she has not yet explained to THE Ang Mo that when translated, he has been labeled  “the bloke with ginger hair”.  

 

 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Letting Go Of Fear


Letting Go Of Fear

 

How many times have we anticipated discomfort or danger and would provide every excuse to avoid it or plan to the T with 4 contingency plans to manage it?
 

These few weeks, I learnt a few things about letting go of fear.  The good thing was that I realized it did not take special skills.  You did not need strength, courage, determination or any fluffy concept that you could create a cringe-worthy motivational poster from, to let go of fear.  All these just focused on one's "ego self".  Letting go of fear was really about making room in your heart to trust the people around you to hold your hand when you are afraid to take a step forward into an uncomfortable space.

 



Fear Of Drowning

 

 

During a family holiday in Phuket recently, we enjoyed a wonderful stay at a huge villa perched on top of a hill, overlooking the beach.  It was gorgeous.  It came with a jacuzzi bath big enough for 2 people and a pool that thankfully was not quite the size of a bird bath. 

 

David, Joel and I spent most of our vacation floating about in the pool.  Mom however, spent the initial couple of days relaxing on the deck chair, reading or stuffing her face with nuts and chips.  We finally convinced her that the water level in the pool was shallow and unless she was built like a hobbit, her feet would be able to touch the bottom of the pool.

 

She was terrified of water.  She almost drowned as a child when she was riding in a little small boat or “sampan” and swore never to go anywhere near a pool, river or beach ever again. 

 

However, after some gentle persuasion, and knowing that she could trust the 3 of us to hold her in case she slipped in the pool, she gingerly made her way into the water, fully clothed and one hand clung tightly to me and the other to the side of the pool.  We were very pleased that she had let go of her fear of drowning and joined the family inside the pool. 

 

Although it was the one and only time she used the pool, and of course we were not expecting her to do the back-stroke in it, we were extremely happy that at least, she tried.   

 

She managed to let go of her fear, and let it be.

 
Mom's first steps into the pool after so many years.  She's grabbing to the side of the pool for dear life.

 

Fear Of Not Catching Up

 

This week, Joel enlisted into the army to fulfil his 2-year national service obligation.   As I was anxious about his fitness level, I hired a personal trainer 2 months before his enlistment to put him through a fitness routine that could prepare him for the rigors of military training.

 

When the day of his enlistment arrived, he was quite calm and composed.  He packed his bag on his own, gathered the necessary documents, rounded up the family and then we made our way together to the Basic Military Training Camp.  Along the way, I checked on him repeatedly just to be sure that he was emotionally calmed and mentally prepared.  He then quietly told me, “Mom, I am excited about the new experience ahead of me. I am looking forward to a new life in the army.  However I am worried I would not be able to catch up.”

 

There you go.  Fear. 

 

So I spent some time talking to him about how the army was going to take care of him.  They would make every effort to ensure that the boys would be able to catch up with each other and acclimatize to military life before allowing them to advance in the next stage of their training.   I told him that what was more important was that he embraced this new life with an open heart and an open mind, and treat each situation as a learning curve that will contribute to his growth and development. The commander of the camp even addressed the anxious group of parents and the boys, quite transparently explaining the entire training regime, objectives and expectations. He assured me that my son was in good hands. As if it was a sign, we spotted an old friend who was one of the officers in charge of the company.  That put Joel's mind at ease.

 

Well, he was allowed to make one phone call to me every night and I am very pleased that he rattled non-stop about the fun he was having, although he could not remember his buddy’s name and he could not recognize the meat from the vegetable in the meals provided.

 

I guess he will survive the 2 years of military service with ease. He managed to let go of his fear and let it be.

The day before his enlistment when he still had hair.
 
Welcome to military life




The bed at the soldiers' quarters looked quite comfy.


Standard military issue.  I hope Joel doesn't lose it during field camp.

This was Joel's first meal at the cookhouse.  It's possibly his best meal at the cookhouse.


Fear Of Not Meeting Expectations

 

 

With Mom and Joel letting go of their respective fears, where did that leave mine?  I spent a sleepless 2 weeks worrying about the visit of my company’s global board of directors and the global executives.  Many regional colleagues had regaled about the fabulous experience the board and executives had when they made market visits in the last few years.  I was so worried that I could not meet with their expectations when they visited our market, especially when our resources were limited.
 

The best thing that happened during the board and executives’ visit was that the entire team banded together, and worked very long hours to create a fool-proof logistical plan to manage this visit.  To transfer almost 20-30 people across the island to several meeting venues and activities was terribly challenging.  There were last minute changes to the plans, last minute requests and last minute issues that sent the team spiraling into a whirlwind of confusion.  However, in the end, we managed to make the right things happen at the right time.  There was no magic formula.  All it took was great teamwork, empathy, generosity of time, positivity of spirit.  We banded together through the rough patches and we did meet the expectations of the regional bosses after all. 

 

This experience taught me the invaluable lesson that I should learn to let go of my fears, trust the team more and just let it be. I should have trusted that the project was in the hands of very capable people who managed it with a lot of pride in their work.

What a fabulous looking team!
 
The amazing team who made it all happen.  I am so grateful to them for their generosity of time and energy, their teamwork, empathy and for  keeping the spirits up. I could never have done it without them.

 

About The Writer

The writer of this blog post is a Marketing and PR professional for over 20 years.  Due to her love for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), she is also a freelance sports writer on the side, contributing MMA-related articles to several sports media.  She works in partnership with her husband, David Ash, who is an avid sports photographer from 
www.singaporemaven.com.  She is passionate about Muay Thai and nurtures a dream to fight competitively one day when her coach stops making fun of her.  She is also a psychic intuitive by birth and runs a consultancy that does tarot and numerology readings under her brand, Sun Goddess Tarot.  This blog is affectionately called "The Crazy AngMo" as she is married to one, although she has not yet explained to THE Ang Mo that when translated, he has been labeled  “the bloke with ginger hair”.  

 

 

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Off The Beaten Track In Hong Kong


The Mad Rush

 

My visits to Hong Kong were always a whirlwind rush against time and traffic to get to workshops and meetings, and hurried dinners or drink sessions with friends in Hong Kong.  The final hours of my trip would also see me zipping from trams to malls, to train stations, and across the island to more malls because I had grudgingly agreed to purchase several tins of a popular brand of cookies that could only be found in Hong Kong, wait for a roast goose from a famous restaurant to be cooked, packed and ready to sit with my clean and nice-smelling clothes in my luggage or snap up a bunch of cheap cosmetics from a Hong Kong-based cosmetic chain store.





 

I did like the hurried meals though.  We had a hurried lunch at a traditional dim sum restaurant that served its dim sum in trolleys that whizzed past our table at the speed of a space shuttle. They were pushed by harried waitresses who shouted at the top of their voices to ask if we wanted them to throw a basket of barbecued pork buns at our table in a bid to practice their Ultimate Frisbee skills.

 





I felt that I have never had enough time to see Hong Kong for the gem it truly was, apart from the mornings when I would wake up to a fantastic view from my hotel window which overlooked the Victoria Park.  I loved watching various group of old folks “doing their thing” amidst greenery.  Apart from the usual groups that did Tai-Chi and Qi-Gong, there was a group that did a fan dance, and another group that did a kungfu display while brandishing swords.  Then there were groups that focused on activities that had questionable efficacies.  One group walked backwards, another kept flapping their hands and then there were the “moon-walkers” who walked in slow motion rather than walked at a slow pace. Fascinating!


 


Squeezing In Me Time

 

Inspired by old folks energetically performing their daily exercises, this old lady here thought to squeeze in some time for my own workout too.  So I booked a session with Bresson Brel, Head Coach of Boxing at Jab MMA. Bresson who was a World Champion boxer with 14 years of experience. 8 of those years were spent as a professional boxer. He came highly recommended as his specialty was in specific boxing conditioning drills.  That sounded safe enough for me to know that I would not be losing a tooth when I trained with him.

 


Bresson had possibly communicated telepathically with my boxing coach in Singapore.  After warming up with 30 push-ups which made me feel rather pumped, he very politely told me to repeat another set of 30 push-ups because “Let’s not count those because they weren’t low enough shall we?” He was a great coach and I had a great workout.  I wished I had more time in Hong Kong to train more regularly with him.

Even David got his act together and booked a training session with Professor Rodrigo Caporal who held a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and was well-decorated to the hilt with world championship titles. David learnt a lot from that training session and it was hilarious when he admitted that his "sit-on-him-and-hope-for-the-best" technique did not work.




Off The Beaten Track

 

I was glad that I included David in this recent trip though, or I would never have found that piece of tranquility beyond the urban parks in Hong Kong.

 

We spent a day at the sleepy fishing village of Tai-O on Lantau Island where time almost stood still.  The journey to Tai-O itself was an experience.  It was almost a “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” type of experience.  We took the tram to catch the ferry to Mui Wo, then hopped onto the number 1 bus to Tai-O which was quite an interesting ride if one was ever in an adventurous mood. As the bus drove through the hills, it rolled around the bends almost always nearly missing an on-coming bus.  It trimmed the trees at breakneck speed a few times, and we saw our lives flashed past our eyes throughout the whole journey.  When we arrived at Tai-O, we felt like we were in a time-warp. It certainly was not the Hong Kong I knew.  The pace felt much slower, the air was cleaner, and the shops, homes, schools, and almost every aspect of the little village seemed to belong to a different dimension in time.  

 

Everyone who lived in Tai-O was in the fishing industry, operated a seafood restaurant or ran a shop that specialized in dried seafood.  It was fascinating to see families living in stilt houses that lined a river bank, busy with their daily activity of salting fish, drying them in the sun, and mending fishing nets.

 















Some of the houses looked like aluminum containers and we wondered how families living in those could withstand the sweltering heat.

 


We stopped for lunch at the Tai-O Heritage Hotel which was a respite from the heat.  The charm of the hotel reminded me of the E&O Hotel in Penang or the Raffles Hotel in Singapore minus the glitz. The view from the hotel was stunning and I wished that we had booked a room for the night there. Maybe next time.

 


From Tai-O, a taxi took us to yet another sleepy village called Ngongping.  Many Buddhist pilgrims visited the Po Lin Monastery at Ngongping and one could not claim to have visited Ngongping without negotiating the challenging stairs up to the Big Buddha. However once we arrived at the top of the stairs, we were rewarded by a stunning view of the monastery, the mountains and the sea surrounding us.  It was so peaceful..almost a slice of heaven.

 


I was glad that we went beyond the malls and cafes in Hong Kong, and chose to get off the beaten track during this trip.  I finally saw Hong Kong for the gem it truly was.

Photo credit: Most pictures from this post were photographed by David

 

 

About The Writer

The writer of this blog post is a Marketing and PR professional for over 20 years.  Due to her love for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), she is also a freelance sports writer on the side, contributing MMA-related articles to several sports media.  She works in partnership with her husband, David Ash, who is an avid sports photographer from 
www.singaporemaven.com.  She is passionate about Boxing and nurtures a dream to fight competitively one day when her coach stops making fun of her.  She is also a psychic intuitive by birth and runs a consultancy that does tarot and numerology readings under her brand, Sun Goddess Tarot.  This blog is affectionately called "The Crazy AngMo" as she is married to one, although she has not yet explained to THE Ang Mo that when translated, he has been labeled  “the bloke with ginger hair”.  

 

 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Singapore That I Know And Love


There were many moments that I had enjoyed with Singapore's 50th National Day celebrations.  I loved to watch as the night sky lighted up with fireworks that lasted awhile longer than usual.  I loved  the spectacular aerial display performed by our Air Force.  Even my social media feeds seemed more colourful than usual.  Plastered cross all social media platforms, were photos of the Marina Bay Sands, skyscrapers at the central business district and people togged in the flag colours of red and white.  

You know, I thought about how much I enjoyed the aerial display by the Black Knights not just because they were technically superb but because even when the sky was grey and threatened to rain, the crowd stayed for hours to wait for the jets.  This was typical of Singaporeans, determined, tenacious and resilient.

This is a picture of the Black Knights taken by Joel right at the start of their aerial display on National Day. As you can see, the weather was bleak. 


And this was one taken by David when the Knights were practicing their moves about a week before National Day amidst sunny skies.




While I appreciated that the  pictures of skyscrapers, concrete skyline and airplanes told a story of how we had evolved from the backwaters of political and economic instability to a country that is stable and full of  economic opportunities, what I had appreciated most was that our country was more than this concrete jungle of urbanisation.  It left plenty of room for our children to ride a bike in the park, enjoy a stroll by the river, fly a kite at the barrage, have a picnic at the beach, jog through the park connector and admire flowers at the gardens.  My Singapore was more than Marina Bay Sands and the financial centre.  It was a clean, green and colourful garden city.  The transformation of many of these spaces had inspired creativity, promoted healthy living and encouraged more quality family time. When I looked  out of the window from my office which is situated within what one would call a concrete jungle,  I could see a a lot of joggers, yoga practitioners,  and cyclists enjoying their respective  activities by the marina.  

So instead of sharing pictures of skyscrapers and Marina Bay Sands the way most of my friends across social media had done, I have decided to share pictures of the better, greener, side of Singapore.














Another thing I appreciated about my country was that it was a safe haven for us. My family and I could walk on the streets at night and leave our car and front doors unlocked without fear of getting robbed.  I could accidentally leave my wallet in the taxi and would promptly get a phone call from the taxi-driver asking where he would like my wallet to be delivered to.   My nephews would not be allowed  to get off the school bus without my cousin waiting for them at the driveway.  It offered me peace of mind knowing that my family is thriving in a safe environment.


I remembered  Dad  offered to send me to London to pursue a Law degree so that I could have a professional degree and not a general one.  Instead I chose to stick with my plans to study English and Political Science at the National University of Singapore and eventually enjoyed a successful  career in marketing and public relations. That is Singapore for me. I appreciated a country that afforded me great economic opportunities defined by how hard I had worked for it, and not what I had studied.


I just sold my car recently because I did not need one.  I loved how this country was connected with efficient public transport from one end of Singapore to another.  Sure we had occasional train breakdowns and pre-booked taxis that had not shown up at the appointed time but generally, I got to where I needed to go quite promptly and without worrying if train, bus or taxi drivers were about to go on strike.


 I had fun watching a very unified sea of red at the marina barrage where locals and foreigners alike were spotted wearing  t-shirts emblazoned with "I Love Singapore".  I appreciated all the efforts made to  actively promote tolerance and unity within this melting pot of many different races, religions, and cultures.  Children in school celebrated racial harmony day annually.  It meant a lot to me particularly when my own family was  a United Nations of different races and the three of us each had different last names, Ash, Ong and Lee, which made conversations with immigration officers at certain airports quite interesting.


This, ultimately is the Singapore I had come to love. Within this tiny red dot, we appreciated each other's differences and even celebrated them. We learnt to laugh at our different quirkiness, yet we are banded by our unique lingo, "Singlish",  our unique Singaporean behaviours, our unique Singaporean food, our unique Singaporean unity when faced with tragic circumstances, international sports events or celebratory events.

These are some of the photos of a multicultural Singapore that I love.










I have got family across the globe, in the UK, the U.S. And some migrated to Australia and Canada.  However, for me, Singapore is ultimately where my heart is.  Home, is where the heart is, isn't it?


Being a Singaporean made this post a bias one. So I thought that it would be appropriate for me to quell this bias view of my country and share the exact words of my friend K, a Burmese who had lived in Singapore for a long time. These are her words:


"I don't expect public transport to be perfect. Machines do break down after all. But how amazing it is, that almost every inch of Singapore is going to be accessible.  In Burm! There is almost no paint left on some buildings, that might even erode the structure. Here, I see HDB walls being repainted just because they look dull, and the paint isn't even peeling.


 I have had my fair share of security scares, but on the bright side, I know I won't be raped and 'cat-called' at just by walking down the street.  

I love my Kopi. Even the 3-in-1 coffee mix can't replace that special ingredient of love brewed by my coffee aunties and uncles at the local coffee shops.

I also love that we are becoming more compassionate and less 'robotic'.

I could go on, but the point is that, with everything that the country has given us, wouldn't you say that it's only fair that we could look at  giving back whatever little we can?  People always complain about SingaBORE. But it's not boring if you don't let it get boring.  Be a volunteer perhaps. Give your time to society."

K did volunteer her time with the SIngapore Armed  Forces Voluntary Corp.  I have so much respect for her and she isn't even Singaporean.


Photos in this post were taken by David Ash, www.singaporemaven.com as well as Joel Lee.

About The Writer

The writer of this blog post is a Marketing and PR professional for over 20 years.  Due to her love for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), she is also a freelance sports writer on the side, contributing MMA-related articles to several sports media.  She works in partnership with her husband, David Ash, who is an avid sports photographer from www.singaporemaven.com.  She is passionate about Muay Thai and nurtures a dream to fight competitively one day when her coach stops making fun of her.  She is also a psychic intuitive by birth and runs a consultancy that does tarot and numerology readings under her brand, Sun Goddess Tarot.  This blog is affectionately called "The Crazy AngMo" as she is married to one, although she has not yet explained to THE Ang Mo that when translated, he has been labeled  “the bloke with ginger hair”.